Thursday, February 29

The Witches – National Theatre

If there was a list of children’s shows where the adults laughed perhaps more than children, The Witches would top the game. Bold, fierce, and oh, so hilarious! The Witches consumes you into its world with reverberating movement, savage one-liners, hit songs and theatrical design. Book and lyrics by Lucy Kirkwood, lyrics and music by Dave Malloy and directed by Lyndsey Turner, the play is adapted from Roald Dahl’s 1983 dark fantasy novel The Witches. 

It opens with a dark, mysterious animation of a terrified young person encountering a witch. The screen is surrounded by an even darker, iconic backdrop of violet and black-hued witch claws. The Witches ensemble enters with the first number, “A Note about Witches”, and transform from innocent middle-aged working women into evil, scheming witches. The first half is well-paced and extremely enjoyable despite the quick jump from Luke’s (Bertie Caplan) parents’ death in a car crash (which is pleasingly staged) to him living with his Norwegian cigar-smoking grandmother (Sally Ann Triplett). Their “Heartbeat” duet, after the grandmother’s heart attack, gives the much-needed moment of sentimentality missing from the crash before and is beautifully executed by the duo. Gran and Luke are recommended by the doctor to get some rest at Bournemouth Hotel, where a series of adventures ensue, with the venue also hosting the Annual Conference of English Witches. Other guests include The Jenkins (Ekow Quartey, Maggie Service) and their son Bruno (Cian Eagle-Service). The hotel manager Mr. Stringer (Daniel Rigby) greets all parties based on their social class with immaculate delivery and comic timing. Another charming number “Bruno Sweet Bruno” performed by Eagle-Service who shines as the ladies’ man collecting sweets from every woman he meets, is surprisingly adorable, unsettling and funny. Another such highlight is “Down With Children”, a passionate, open proclamation by the Grand High Witch (Katherine Kingsley) to an almost-agreeing adult audience. The second half saw a drop in pace, disengaging the audience for a bit, but soon regained the attention with Helga’s (Jersey Blu Georgia) “Get up”, another inspiring track.  

Katherine Kingsley and witches: Photo Marc Brenner

An extremely talented young company with stellar voices, Caplan and Eagle-Service give absolutely brilliant and delightful performances, noticeably enjoying their time on stage. Triplet as Gran is both lovable and weird, sharing an endearing bond with Caplan. Kingsley’s Grand High Witch is bold, open, and direct, shunning anyone who dares to steal her moment. Her dialogue with a child in the audience sent a chill down my spine before I gathered that it was indeed scripted. The entire ensemble performed with vivacious energy! 

The world of the musical and the narrative are coherently woven with the linguistics of Dahl’s distinct vocabulary, Stephen Mear’s evocative choreography and Malloy’s loaded music. Turner’s direction is complex, consistent, and smooth. Lizzie Clachan’s vivid and rotating set brings smooth transitions. Bruno Poet’s electrifying light and Alexander Caplen’s thrilling sound design don’t skip a beat to create drama, atmosphere and to some extent fear. 

While certainly ticking all the boxes for an excellent children’s show, it provides just as much fun for adults! 

Running till January 27th 2024, at the Olivier Stage, National Theatre.

Reviewer: Khushboo Shah

Reviewed: 27th November 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.